Archives For Vocation

Earlier this month the United Methodist Church continued its decades-long impasse over homosexuality.

Like guns, drugs and electric chairs, the United Methodist Book of Discipline states that homosexuality ‘is incompatible with Christian teaching.’

Part of my frustration that we cannot affirm the basic humanity of homosexuals is due to my belief that we should already be on to other topics as it relates to homosexuality.

Namely, ordination.

Ministry.

Our baptismal summons.

Allow me to elaborate by way of my hero, Karl Barth.

rp_images1.jpegIn the mid-20th century, Karl Barth wrote a surprising critique of infant baptism at the conclusion of his massive work Church Dogmatics.

Barth’s experience from having seen Germany and the German Church capitulate to pagan-like nationalism in two world wars eventually convinced him that the practice of infant baptism- though perhaps theologically defensible- was no longer practically tenable. In his about-face on infant baptism,

Barth reiterated the fact:

there is no explicit scriptural basis for infant baptism in scripture while there is a clear prejudice towards adult baptism.

More urgent for Barth was his belief that infant baptism had led to the malignant assumption that one is a Christian from birth, by virtue of having been baptized- quite apart from any appreciation of conversion.

In Barth’s view this had the effect of cheapening the grace won by Christ on the cross but, even more, it wore away at the eschatological character of Christ’s Church; that is, infant baptism helped create the circumstances wherein Christians no longer remembered they were set apart by baptism to anticipate Christ’s Kingdom through their counter-cultural way of life lived in community.

Perhaps its the cogency of Barth’s theology or the integrity of Barth’s lived witness (he was one of the few Protestant leaders in Germany to oppose from the beginning the rise of Nazism), but from time to time I dip in to his Church Dogmatics again only to find myself empathizing if not agreeing with Barth’s view- or at least agreeing with Barth’s diagnosis that the Church has lost its foundational, Kingdom-embodying point of view.

I never had the courage to admit it in the ordination process, but whether or not you agree with Barth’s conclusion his critiques are spot on.

rp_barth-224x300.jpgToo often debates about adult and infant baptism focus on the individual baptismal candidate and obscure what was central to the early Christians: baptism is initiation into a People. Christ intends the gathered baptized community to be a social and political reality.

We neither baptize to encourage sentimentality about babies nor do we baptize to secure private, individual salvation.

We baptize to build an alternative polis in a world where all the other Kingdoms care not about God’s Kingdom.

What’s missing in baptismal liturgies, adult and infant, is the sense of awe, or at least appreciation, that God is slowly toppling nations and planting a new one with just a few drops of water. That baptism doesn’t only wash away an individual’s sins but washes away the sins of the world because through baptism God creates a People who are his antithesis to the Kingdoms of the world.

This is what Paul conveys when he writes about how those who are one in Christ through baptism are now no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. Baptism is a social reordering. Baptism sets apart a community that challenges and critiques the social hierarchies of this world.

Baptism makes Church a community where the class distinctions of Rome no longer matter and where the familial distinctions of Israel no longer matter.

Whereas in Israel priestly service was reserved for the sons of Aaron, baptism creates a community where we are all priests now because every one of us bears the investiture of the Great High Priest’s death.

This is why the question of baptism, not marriage or ordination, is more interesting theologically when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.

If baptism commissions us to service in Christ’s name and if marriage and ministry are but forms Christian vocation take, then the Church should not baptize homosexuals if it’s not prepared to marry or ordain them.

I’m not suggesting we refuse homosexual persons baptism.

I’m suggesting that a fuller understanding of baptism changes the stakes of what is otherwise a tired cultural debate.

Baptism not only relativizes cultural and religious hierarchies, it relativizes- or it should and once did- blood lines. At baptism, you’re not just saying ‘I do’ to Jesus you’re saying ‘I do’ to everyone else there. The waters of baptism make Church our first family- a scary proposition because often it’s a family every bit as strange and dysfunctional as our family of origin.

rp_barth_1_3-300x250.jpegOnce we’re baptized, Jesus ambivalence becomes our own: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers? Those who do the will of God the Father.’ The baptismal covenant should always caution Christians against making a fetish of ‘family values.’

 

995687_4988940372277_749089862_nThis is from friend, former youth and now colleague, Taylor Mertins.

You should definitely check out his blog and subscribe to it here. He even gave me a shout-out in his most sermon, albeit anonymously 🙂

1. Every Church Is Different

I was blessed to grow up (theologically) under the tutelage of great mentors in Dennis Perry and the Tamed Cynic himself, Jason Micheli. Until I left for college I worshipped at Aldersgate UMC for the majority of my life and had very little experience outside of my home church. I learned very quickly throughout seminary, and particularly while serving at St. John’s, that all churches are different. What I preached at Aldersgate would never work at St. John’s and vice versa. Every church has its own context and collective narrative that must be learned before the rhythm of worship and preaching can begin to be fruitful for both the pastor and the congregation. It takes time, but it is time well spent to learn the story of the people.

2. Being New Can Go A Long Way

When I was commissioned last summer I became the youngest pastor in the Virginia Annual Conference and would become the youngest pastor to serve at St. John’s since 1955. The church had grown accustomed to their pastors retiring from this appointment and were excited to receive a new and fresh-from-seminary pastor. Being new has gone a long way. I have been given certain freedoms to explore different ways of worship, teaching, and discipleship purely because I am still new to this. The laity have been particularly forgiving of my preaching because, I hope, they recognize that I am continuing to learn our collective narrative every Sunday from the pulpit. The atmosphere in church has been exciting over the last year which has encouraged our members to invite others to worship, something that all churches need in order to share the Good News.

3. It Can Be Lonely

The Tamed Cynic himself has written before about the loneliness he experienced in his first church because there were very few people around his age. Lindsey, my wife, and I have had a difficult time in Staunton meet and making new friends outside of church. Part of this stems from the fact that there are simply not very many young people in Staunton. However it is challenging to make friends outside of the church when some people immediately put up a wall when they learn that I am a pastor. It is remarkably important to maintain friendships that began in, and before, seminary but it is challenging when the geographic divide makes it difficult to stay in touch. All pastors need community; their church and people outside of it.

4. Committee Meetings Are Hard

Seminary cannot prepare you for committee meetings. I was never asked to serve on a committee before I became a pastor so I had to quickly learn the functions of each and their patterns of serving the church without any prior experience. Though the Book of Discipline outlines the roles of the committees, every church lives out these responsibilities in different ways. There have been many nights where I come home thrilled about the direction of the church I serve, and other nights where I have felt defeated by what had taken place during a committee meeting. It is so important to remember that all of this, doing church and being the body of Christ for the world, it about God and not myself.

5. It’s Important To Be Involved In The Community

When I met with the SPRC for the first time I asked what they wanted most from their pastor. The collective response was that they wanted a pastor who would be known in the community. I made a concerted effort to make that come true during my first year. For example: I have been quick to introduce myself to people in town as the pastor of St. John’s, I joined the Stonewall Brigade Band (established in 1855!) and play drums with them every Monday night as we perform free concerts in Gypsy Hill Park, and I sent hand written letters to the immediate community surrounding the church introducing myself and asking if there was anything I could do for them. The church is not just the people who gather on Sunday mornings; we are intricately connected with the people in the community. It is therefore important to establish a presence within the community outside of the church.

6. My Vision Is Not The Same Thing As The Church’s Vision

I have come up with a lot of new ideas over the last year and a number of them have become very fruitful for our church. Recently however, I have begun to realize that my vision is not necessarily synonymous with the church’s vision. The people of St. John’s have been doing church a lot longer than I have; they have an established wisdom about what can and can’t work for our faith community. It has been good for me to lead with a passionate vision, but then at other times it has been even better for me to take a step back and let the lay leadership’s vision guide us.

7. Workaholism Is Just One Step Away

Every church has many needs from the pastor: visiting the shut-ins, preparing and leading worship on a weekly basis, ordering the church, etc. Though many might assume that being a pastor is a one-hour-a-week job, it is so much more than that. As someone who is regularly at the church facility there are a number of other jobs that I never imagined would be regular parts of my ministry. I have been a plumber, carpenter, Preschool teacher, preacher, mower, snow-shoveler, counselor, teacher, accountant, therapist, etc. For pastors there is a temptation to let the needs of the church dictate every aspect of your life. It is vitally important to maintain a regular sabbath and share the responsibilities of church with the body of Christ.

8. Less And Less People Know Their Bibles

I often take for granted how much scripture is known by the people of church. There are, of course, the prayer warriors and bible study leaders who know their bibles better than I do, but over the last year there have been a number of experiences that had demonstrated a staggering amount of biblical illiteracy. For example: One Sunday I casually mentioned Jacob wrestling with the angel on the banks of the Jabbok river with a bible study class when they all looked up at me and one of them said, “that’s definitely not in the bible.” Or after preaching about the last supper and then going through the entire communion liturgy a longtime church member said, “I never knew that what we do with communion comes from the Jesus’ last supper!” As the greater church looks to the future of the Christian faith we need to be particularly careful about how we return to a love of the bible and nurture scripturally shaped imaginations.

9. Reading Makes For Better Preaching

Soon after arriving in Staunton I had more free time on my hands than I had initially anticipated. I was able to make all my visits, have the sermon written by Wednesday and take care of my other responsibilities which freed me for having time to read from both the bible and theological works. By the time the fall rolled around I found myself incredibly busy and lost the time to read outside of what I needed on a weekly basis; my preaching suffered during this time. I relied too heavily on commentaries and personal anecdotes because my own faith walk was suffering under the weight of weekly ministry. Only when I had come to a realization of the way my work was affecting my faith was I able to re-focus and re-prioritize in such a way that I found time to feed my soul outside of my regular responsibilities. We become better writers and better preachers by actively reading and responding to God’s Word beyond the weekly sermon or lesson in our lives.

10. I Have The Best Job In The World

A professor of mine from seminary once said, “If you can do anything else outside of ministry then stop right now. Ministry can be one of the least rewarding vocations: spiritually, monetarily, and socially. But if you can’t do anything else, which is to say if you feel so called to ministry that you can’t do anything else, then it will be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.” For some this was a big wake up call and a few eventually dropped out of school, but for me it only refueled my fire. And he was right. Ministry is the greatest job in the world. Where else could I spend my time deep in God’s Word? What job would give me the ability to preside over something as precious as the water dripping on a child’s head in baptism or offering the gift of bread and wine to the weary travelers of faith? It is a privilege to serve God’s kingdom as the pastor of St. John’s UMC and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.

  • Rev. Taylor Mertins~I graduated from Duke Divinity School in the Spring of 2013 and recently celebrated my one year anniversary of serving as the pastor of St. John’s UMC in Staunton, VA. Throughout my first year I experienced numerous mountaintop experiences as well as deep spiritual valleys. I baptized infants and adults into the body of Christ, I presided over the table and shared the bread and wine with the people of God, I brought couples into holy matrimony, and I gave witness to the life and death of faithful Christians. I have learned a lot and am continuing to grow. Below are 10 of the biggest lessons I learned from my first year in ministry. 

reverend_in_rhythmYesterday I posted a semi-rant about how I don’t like to be called Rev. The rant was rooted in my belief that everyday Christians need to rediscover the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ That is, we’re all called and commissioned at our baptism to embody Christ’s grace in the everyday things we do.

One need not be a minister to minister.

Every Christian has a vocation, something to which they’re called.

Discovering that vocation is the adventure of Christianity.

Here’s proof:

 

 

A sermon for All Saints based on Ezra 3

On Thursday afternoon this week, I found myself in what you might describe as a ‘sour mood.’ Or, as my wife likes to put it, I was ‘man-strating.’

First, early on Thursday I received an email from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named here in the congregation, my own personal Caiphus. For some reason, he felt the need to email me to dispute Dennis’ sermon from last Sunday.

You know, the sermon that was written by and preached by NOT ME. I mean if I’m going to start getting blamed for Dennis’ sermons too then he’s got to step up his game. Specifically, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wanted to dismiss the Pew Trust statistics Dennis shared with you, about the percentage of people in their 40’s and 30’s and 20’s for whom church is not relevant to their lives at all.

His email was succinct: “I come to church every Sunday. If other people don’t that’s not my problem.”

That’s when I started manstrating.

Right after reading his email, I got in my car where I discovered that every single radio station was playing a campaign commercial, the kind explaining how this Tuesday is the most critical date in the history of human civilization and unless Barack Obama/Mitt Romney wins the earth will stop spinning, America will cease to exist, and the Death Star will reach full operational capacity.

Driving in my car, my mood worsened.

When I got home Thursday afternoon, my phone rang. And rang. And rang…don’t you love phone calls this time of year? Barack Obama’s campaign called me 3 times, asking for my vote and my money. Mitt Romney’s campaign called me 2 times, asking for my vote and my money. George Allen and Tim Kaine followed with robo-calls of their own, asking for my vote and my money.

So when my phone rang for the 8th time, I was full-on manstrating.

 

‘Is Jason Micheli there?’ the voice on the other end inquired.

 

‘No, he’s not here,’ I lied, ‘can I take a message?’

 

‘My name’s Matt. I’m calling from Princeton Seminary.’

 

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘this is Jason.’

 

‘But I thought you said…’

 

‘Never mind what I said. How can I help you?’

He then explained that he was a seminary student and that he was calling on behalf of the Bicentennial Campaign, soliciting gifts…and testimonials from alumni.

He tried to grease the sale by telling me all the new things going on at my alma mater, and then he asked if I would make a gift to the campaign.

I said sure. He said great. I said okay. He asked how much.  I told him.

And he said: ‘Times are tough, huh?’

That’s when my mood turned truly foul.

‘Look kid, maybe no one’s told you yet what you can expect to make as a pastor but I’m not Bill Gates. Besides, you should’ve called earlier. I’ve already given money to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, George Allen, Tim Kaine, NPR and the Rebel Alliance.’

He sounded confused.

‘Well, um, would you like to share any thoughts about how your seminary education prepared you for ministry? We’d like to compile these and publish them in the alumni magazine.’

And instantly my mind went to that email from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sitting in my inbox, still waiting for a reply.

And I knew this was one of those moments where a grown-up could choose to bite his tongue and not resort to petty sarcasm. But I’m not one of those grown-ups.

‘Sure, Matt, I’d love to share my thoughts. Here goes: Princeton Seminary prepared me exceedingly well…to maintain a church for church people.’

I could hear him typing my response.

‘In fact, Matt, why don’t you suggest to the trustees that they can slow down, delay the Bicentennial for several decades, because based on how Princeton taught me to do ministry it must still be 1950.’

‘That’s not the kind of feedback we were looking for’ Matt said.

‘Of course not, but its what you need to hear.

Princeton Seminary taught me to pray the kinds of prayers church people like, to preach the kinds of sermons church people like, to plan the kind worship services that church people like, to manage the kind of church that church people like.

 

But seminary didn’t teach me how to do any of those things in a way that makes church relevant and life-changing to an unchurched person.

 

And that’s the future, Matt. And the clock’s ticking. It’s ticking faster than any one in church wants to believe.’

 

Those Pew statistics Dennis shared with you last week- about how with each new generation the church plays an ever-shrinking role- those aren’t just numbers.

They’re people with names and stories. People God loves.

 

That’s why this week I sent our youth director, Teer Hardy, out into Alexandria and DC, to find some those people behind the numbers and hear their side of the story.

 

I wish I could show you the video he shot. If we were in the National Cathedral, I could show you the video. But since we’re in this sanctuary, you’re just going to have to listen. Here’s one of the responses (Cue Audio)

 

My name is ___________________. 

I’m 33. I’m married and have a 1 year old boy. I work full-time.  

As a 30-something, how relevant is the Church to you in your life? 

At this moment, not very much. I guess it’s been almost five years since I worshipped in a church, besides a few weddings. Some of my earliest memories are of going to church during Advent. 

I miss that element in my weekly life, of worshiping and belonging to a community. Part of me would like to have that resonance of faith in my daily life, but most churches don’t seem to have someone like me, someone my age, in mind. Your question could easily be turned around, couldn’t it? How relevant is someone like me to your church? 

When you hear the word ‘worship’ what comes to your mind? 

The word ‘worship’ doesn’t immediately lead me to think of institutional religious practices. 

To worship, to me, is to reframe my attention away from everything I typically pay attention to as a full-time working mother, and turn to God, experience awe, gratitude, connection to other humans. I could attend a formal church service and never experience any of those things, but I do experience them in other ways and places.  

What assumptions or habits do churches have that are an obstacle to someone your age? 

I think there is a risk of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. I think churches sometimes try to pander and make themselves appear relevant to a young audience. People my age and younger are a lot savvier now. We’re marketed to all the time; we can tell the difference between a sales pitch and a genuine interest in us.

 

This is someone who grew up in church and is open to being a part of another one.

 

But did you hear what she said?

 

People like her won’t return to what they left if it’s the same exact thing they left before.

 

Now it’s easy to write people like her off. You can say ‘it’s not my problem.’

I could steer you towards plenty of people who would agree with you.

 

You know where they’re all at this morning? That’s right, in dying churches.

 

And Methodism’s got plenty of those. Churches who love their way of doing things more than they love their mission to reach new people.

 

Churches where perpetuating how they do things is their mission. Churches who feel no urgency until the day comes they can no longer pay the bills.

 

But, just in case there’s still some of you who want to dismiss the statistics and not be bothered about the strangers in the street who don’t think Jesus can change their lives, we solicited some other interviews too.

 

Cue Audio:

My name’s _____________________. I’m 24 and work full-time.

 

What about how churches do worship fails to resonate with you? 

 

I think everyone is at a different place in their lives and everyone has a different perspective. I know that my ideas and opinions about things have changed, and I would be amazed if they didn’t change again. Sometimes it feels like churches want new and younger people so long as we don’t come with our own opinions and needs. We’re expected to sign on to exactly how they like to do worship. In that sense, it’s not much different than children’s church when I was a kid.

 

It’s difficult for me to accept someone else’s preferences if I don’t get the feeling that they’re open to someone else’s way of doing things too. 

 

This other response come to me by way of Facebook:

 

My name’s ____________________. I’m a Graduate Student.

 

I think my faith is in a transitional phase. In college, I found Christian groups to be radical and extreme and it made me doubt the beliefs I had learned my whole life in church and youth group. It left me feeling that the Church just isn’t all that relevant to real life. 

 

Worship sometimes feels like a passive ritual to me. You show up, listen, then go home.  It doesn’t impact my day to day life. 

 

 

Those two people. Guess where they came from?

They grew up here at Aldersgate. They’re ours. Yours.

So, even if you think we don’t have a responsibility to reach as many new people as we can, at the very least you should agree that we have an obligation to people like these two.

After all, you’ve made promises to them.

Remember? When they were baptized- you promised to do whatever it takes to nurture their faith.

 

If we’re not willing to create the kind of church that will be relevant to them when they grow up, then, frankly, we should stop baptizing them when they’re babies.

 

If we’re not willing to adapt how we do church, we should stop baptizing children.

 

Because every time we baptize, we vow to do everything it takes to make them a saint.

 

Shirley Pitts can tell you- John Wesley understood this.

Remembering the saints is something we do. Once a year.

 

Producing saints, Sunday after Sunday, day in and day out- that’s our Christ-given great commission.

 

 

This is what you need to remember.

 

Dennis and I- one of our three goals for the coming 18 months is to raise the number of people in worship by 10%.

 

Round it up to 100 people if you want.

 

Before you nod your heads and say ‘that’s a great idea!’ remember the Ezra chapter 3 catch:

 

We can’t say we’re going to build a new temple and think we can do so by replicating how we’ve always done things before.

 

Because how we do things now will net us what we have.

Now.

 

We’re making worship our number one focus this year and our goal is 10% more people worshipping God with us.

 

To get to that goal, we’re going to have to be creative, take risks, value people over preferences, we’re going to have to examine all our assumptions, we’re going to have to get more basic/more essential, and change.

 

And if you think I’m talking about worship style or music style, you’re missing the point. For example:

 

Most of you would be very reluctant to invite an unchurched friend to worship with you. I understand that reluctance, but it’s got to change.

 

Many of you can’t talk about Jesus or use religious language in a normal conversation with your peers. I was like that; I understand that, and we’ve got to change that.

 

Many of our members are involved in all kinds of activities in the church without ever worshipping with us. I understand that’s an ingrained part of the church culture, but it’s a part of the culture that’s got to change.

 

Other than acolytes, we don’t have our children or youth involved in worship, serving communion, reading scripture, helping to plan, leading prayer or ushering. I understand that might sound chaotic. It’s still gotta change.

 

Many of you don’t know the names of the people you sit near in church every Sunday. I DON’T understand that and it’s definitely got to change.

 

Many of you think worship is something Dennis or I or Andreas or Jason or the band or the choir offer you, and you receive- rather than something we collectively offer our larger community on behalf of God.

 

And more than anything, that mindset has to change.

 

Look, I know change bothers people.

I’ve been at this long enough to have habits I’m afraid to change.

I understand.

 

But what I want to bother you more, what I wish I got emails complaining about, what I wish I got emails complaining about, is how our community is filled with lost coins, lost sheep, lost children and how we’re not laser-beam focused on getting them here so they can embrace a Father who’s waiting for them.

 

I want that to bother you because Jesus made it very clear: it bothers God.

 

I was still on the phone with Matt from Princeton when another call beeped in.

It was probably another campaign calling me for my vote and my money.

 

But at least it snapped me out of my rant and Matt said:

‘That’s a good point Mr Micheli, but transitioning a church into the future- don’t you think that’s your congregation’s responsibility too? Don’t you trust that God can equip your people with the necessary gifts?’

 

I told him he must get very good grades in seminary, and he chuckled gently.

 

And then the little jerk asked me for more money.

 

But he was right.

 

Building on our foundation for a new future is a gigantic, God-sized calling. And it belongs to all of us. Together.

 

Ezra says the leaders who build the new Temple after the exile are the grandkids of the ones who remember how things used to be.

 

Ezra says, at first, everyone thinks their idea to build a new Temple is a great idea.

But Ezra says some have a change of heart when they realize the new Temple won’t be the same as the old.

 

Some refuse to give their money to it, Ezra says.

 

Others opt out Ezra says.

 

But others, those who are old enough to remember what was 50 years ago, Ezra says they weep.

 

They weep, but they’re still there. They’re still there when the new Temple is dedicated.  They’re still committed. They’re still contributing. Because of what God did for them in the past, they’re still invested in the future of what God’s doing.

 

And sure when the new Temple is dedicated, Ezra says you can’t distinguish the sound of celebration from the sound of grief.

 

But that’s okay.

 

Because as messy as it is, that’s what it sounds like- celebration and grief, that’s what it sounds like- when God’s People take the next faithful step.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus for President

Jason Micheli —  October 3, 2012 — 1 Comment

Tonight, while millions gather around their televisions for the presidential debate, I will be at a church meeting, struggling with several lay leaders to fine-tune (not in vain, I hope) our Sunday coffee fellowship.

That we’ll be immersed in the tedious chores of church life during such a significant national event seems almost a cruel joke to the pastor and political junkie in me. To the Christian in me, though, spending tonight focused on church life, even the mundane parts of it,  seems like the perfect counter witness, a reminder that the Church is neither red nor blue, nor red, white, and blue, but is a transnational People whose primary citizenship is to the Kingdom.

The Church isn’t a people who have political positions. The Church isn’t a people who participate in politics. The Church is meant to be its own politics. An alternative community. The Church is meant, as Israel was called, to be a ‘light to the nations.’

Instead all too often the reality is that we have blue churches that are alternatives to red churches and red churches that are alternatives to blue churches but few churches committed the cruciform way of Jesus as an alternative to every hue of the world’s politics.

As Shane Claiborne puts it in Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, Christians on both sides of the aisle have so fallen in love with the state, we’re so used to practicing our faith in the world’s most powerful nation, that it’s killed our imagination:

     ‘We in the church are schizophrenic: we want to be good Christians, but deep down we trust that only the  power of the state and its militaries and markets can really make a difference in the world.”

It’s of course true that both political parties have legitimate perspectives on serious issues and that engagement in those issues is an appropriate concern.

But deep down, Claiborne’s right. And, I wonder, if the Church is in decline in America because we don’t really believe in the product we’re selling? Or is it because we believe in America more?

Either way, Claiborne’s right.

We’ve turned Christ’s Kingdom into some pie-in-the-sky-after-we-die realm because we don’t really believe the way of Jesus can transform this world. Or maybe we believe it but, deep down, we know that way comes at too high a cost to the positions we hold dear or the lifestyle we enjoy.

The result is that we can’t imagine what it means to be a People whose very life together points to the only thing that can truly transform the world.

Our reliance on red/blue categories, on market-based solutions, on policies has muted our imagination as Christians.

As evangelical leader, Tony Campolo puts it: “Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow s*&$. It may not do much to the manure but it sure messes up the ice cream.’ 

 

And so tonight as millions watch the candidates volley memorized soundbites back and forth, I will be at church waist deep in a conversation about coffee hour, my own small prophetic counter-witness to Christ’s Kingdom.

 

 

Last week I performed a wedding along the Potomac River in the late summer afternoon sun. Lucas, the little ring-bearer predictably and adorably forgot to process down with his pillow so as the bride marched to ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ the congregation could all hear Lucas’ mother whispering/shouting: ‘Lucas, Lucas get down here right now.’

The bride’s sister played a tender clarinet solo and, being a professional musician, it was impeccable.

The bride’s friends read tender texts from Kalil Gibran on the nature of love.

The couple’s friend spoke tenderly about their love and wished them well with the advice that all will be well ‘if they just keep loving each other.’

It was all beautiful, tender, romantic and COMPLETELY unrealistic.

As all weddings almost always are.

After I read scripture from 1 John 4 about God being love, I launched into my wedding homily. I don’t reuse homilies from couple to couple but I do repeat a few key points, and my aim in the wedding sermon is always the same: to quash the sentimentality that so often renders wedding ceremonies ‘beautiful’ without being truthful.

Because of course, as any (happily or unhappily) married person can attest ‘just loving each other’ is empty, naive advice. Marriage is work and risk. Marriage is sacrifice- that’s how Jesus, an otherwise single dude, can be an example of the love between husband and wife.

Were it as easy as ‘just loving each other’ marriage wouldn’t be a vocation that required vows to enter.

This is part of what I told that couple:

Marriage is a high-risk adventure, for a life lived together can expose the worst in people, all the intricate flaws that come with human nature.  No matter how many times we have sat in chairs like these and listened to people like me announce “Dearly Beloved,” these are daunting promises to make. Marriage is risky business. Today the two of you are not just saying ‘I do’ to the person standing next to you; you’re also saying ‘I do’ to whomever or whatever that person is going to become- something that is unknown and unseen to the both of you. That is the risk you take today, but as far as the church is concerned it’s a beautiful risk. It’s an act of faith.

It’s this commitment to the unknown- at least in my view- that make weddings the beautiful gesture that they are.

It’s this same commitment to the unknown, this act of faith, that appears to be waning. According to the NY Times, for example, lawmakers in Mexico proposed the creation of short-term, renewable marriage contracts with terms as brief as two years. Which I guess makes marriage less a sacrament and more like a Best Buy service agreement.

Here’s the article from Sunday’s paper.

Endless Parenting

Jason Micheli —  October 1, 2012 — 2 Comments

I’ve loved my wife since I was 15 and have been married to her for 11 years. But marriages, as my job unfortunately reminds me all the time, do end.

Every day I believe more and more that I’ve been called to the ministry  in which I’m engaged, yet some day in the distant future I will cease to be a pastor.

I’m the parent of two curiously perfect boys, a vocation and identity I will never- even if I wanted it (even if they wanted it)- be able to shake.

I’m reading Michael Chabon’s new novel, Telegraph Avenue. Here’s how Chabon’s narrator puts fatherhood:

“…he saw it never would be over. You never would get through to the end of being a father, no matter where you stored your mind or how many steps in the series you followed. Not even if you died. Alive or dead, a thousand miles distant, you were always going to be on the hook for work that was neither a procedure nor a series of steps but, rather, something that demanded your full, constant attention without necessarily calling on you to do, perform or say anything at all.

Fathering imposed an obligation that was more than your money, your body, or your time, a presence neither physical nor measurable by clocks: open-ended, eternal and invisible, like the commitment of gravity to the stars.” 

As a parent, I’m constantly making decision, weighing choices and thinking of the future in terms of what’s in the best interests of my sons, Alexander and Gabriel. By ‘interests’ I’m usually, unconsciously, thinking about what will get them the best education, get them into college, get them a good career etc.

This language of best interests is how our legal system makes judgments and sets policies considering children too.

But is ‘best interests’ a big enough category? A high enough goal? A big enough ambition- for Christians?

Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion has just put a compilation of essays entitled ‘The Best Love of a Child: Being Loved and Being Taught to Love as the First Human Right.’

The essays, coming across disciplines, try to change the target by asking the question:  ‘How can we best love the child?’

Its not enough to feed, clothe and educate children, they argue. We must love children, in our families and as a society, for as Stephen Post says: ‘Loved people love; hurt people hurt.’

Shifting from language of interests to love has an interesting implication in this book. Just as its our responsibility has parents and society to love children, it’s also our responsibility as parents and society to teach them how to love, how to be ‘bearers of sanctity.’

After all, I don’t only-or even firstly- want my boys to be successful and happy. I want them to be compassionate, kind and generous. Framing parenting in terms ‘best interests’ risks raising kids who may be healthy, have good teeth and educations but who are nonetheless narcissists.

I’m certainly not one of these Christians who think we should have religion being taught in public schools; they’d only muck it up, watering ours- or someone else’s- faith down to the point of impotency and unintelligibility.

However, these essays do raise in me the question of the cost of an increasingly secular society; that is, does a neglect of religion bring with it a failure to teach children how to love others? And if so, is our consumer, materialistic society a symptom evidence of that failure?

It could be, this book makes me wonder, that the Church is now the best hope of teaching children not just love but an otherwise civic function- communal responsibility.

Many friends are in the midst of resuming or beginning their college and graduate schools. And many of their parents are suffering a mixture of joy and sadness.
Too often we in the church have a sort of empty nest mentality about our youth who leave for school, thinking that our job- like their parents’- is to get them to graduation. We neglect our calling if we no longer attempt to shape and minster to students after they’ve left for study. What’s more, we do students a profound disservice if fail to convey to them how their study is but the next step in their Christian calling. To learn and glean wisdom from those who’ve come before could not be a more Christian discipline.

Here’s a letter from First Things by one of my intellectual heroes, Stanley Hauerwas. For the last couple of years, I’ve copied it and mailed to some students with whom I’m close. I think it’s a wise piece that any student, or even their parents, could appreciate.

“The Christian religion,” wrote Robert Louis Wilken, “is inescapably ritualistic (one is received into the Church by a solemn washing with water), uncompromisingly moral (‘be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect,’ said Jesus), and unapologetically intellectual (be ready to give a ‘reason for the hope that is in you,’ in the words of 1 Peter). Like all the major religions of the world, Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices and a moral code: it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history.”

Ritualistic, moral, and intellectual: May these words, ones that Wilken uses to begin his beautiful book, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, be written on your soul as you begin college and mark your life—characterize and distinguish your life—for the next four years. Be faithful in worship. In America, going to college is one of those heavily mythologized events that everybody tells you will “change your life,” which is probably at least half true. So don’t be foolish and imagine that you can take a vacation from church.

Be uncompromisingly moral. Undergraduate life on college campuses tends in the direction of neopagan excess. Good kids from good families too often end up using their four years at college to get drunk and throw up on one another. Too often they do so on their way to the condom dispensers. What a waste! Not only because such behavior is self-destructive but also because living this way will prevent you from doing the intellectual work the Christian faith demands. Be deeply intellectual. We—that is, the Church—need you to do well in school. That may sound strange, because many who represent Christian values seem concerned primarily with how you conduct yourself while you are in college; they relegate the Christian part of being in college to what is done outside the classroom.

The Christian fact is very straightforward: To be a student is a calling. Your parents are setting up accounts to pay the bills, or you are scraping together your own resources and taking out loans, or a scholarship is making college possible. Whatever the practical source, the end result is the same. You are privileged to enter a time—four years!—during which your main job is to listen to lectures, attend seminars, go to labs, and read books.

It is an extraordinary gift. In a world of deep injustice and violence, a people exists that thinks some can be given time to study. We need you to take seriously the calling that is yours by virtue of going to college. You may well be thinking, “What ishe thinking? I’m just beginning my freshman year. I’m not being called to be a student. None of my peers thinks he or she is called to be a student. They’re going to college because it prepares you for life. I’m going to college so I can get a better job and have a better life than I’d have if I didn’t go to college. It’s not a calling.”

But you are a Christian. This means you cannot go to college just to get a better job. These days, people talk about college as an investment because they think of education as a bank account: You deposit the knowledge and expertise you’ve earned, and when it comes time to get a job, you make a withdrawal, putting all that stuff on a résumé and making money off the investment of your four years. Christians need jobs just like anybody else, but the years you spend as an undergraduate are like everything else in your life. They’re not yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.

Christ’s call on you as a student is a calling to meet the needs of the Church, both for its own life and the life of the world. The Resurrection of Jesus, Wilken suggests, is not only the central fact of Christian worship but also the ground of all Christian thinking “about God, about human beings, about the world and history.” Somebody needs to do that thinking—and that means you.

Don’t underestimate how much the Church needs your mind. Remember your Bible-study class? Christians read Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering servant as pointing to Christ. That seems obvious, but it’s not; or at least it wasn’t obvious to the Ethiopian eunuch to whom the Lord sent Philip to explain things. Christ is written everywhere, not only in the prophecies of the Old Testament but also in the pages of history and in the book of nature. The Church has been explaining, interpreting, and illuminating ever since it began. It takes an educated mind to do the Church’s work of thinking about and interpreting the world in light of Christ. Physics, sociology, French literary theory: All these and more—in fact, everything you study in college—is bathed in the light of Christ. It takes the eyes of faith to see that light, and it takes an educated mind to understand and articulate it.

There’s another dimension to the call of intellectual work. In the First Letter of Peter we read, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (3:15). Not everybody believes. In fact, the contemporary American secular university is largely a place of unbelief. Thus, the Church has a job to do: to explain why belief in the risen Lord actually makes sense. There’s no one formula, no one argument, so don’t imagine you will find the magic defense against all objections. You can, however, offer the reasonable defense Peter asks for. You may at least make someone think twice before he rejects the risen Lord.

Anyway, defense isn’t the point. Lots of people feel lost because they imagine being a sophisticated, contemporary intellectual makes faith impossible. The Church wants to reach these people, but to do so requires an ambassador at home in the intellectual world. That’s you—or at least that’s what you can become if you do your work with enthusiasm. Share in a love of learning. It’s a worthy love in its own right, and it will allow you to be the leaven in the lump of academia.

So, yes, to be a student is to be called to serve the Church and the world. But always remember who serves what. Colleges focus on learning; as they do so, they can create the illusion that being smart and well educated is the be-all and end-all of life. You do not need to be educated to be a Christian. That’s obvious. After all, Christ is most visible to the world in the person who responds to his call of “Come, follow me.” I daresay St. Francis of Assisi was more important to the medieval Church than any intellectual. One of the most brilliant men in the history of the Church, St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, said as much. But the Church needs some Christians to be educated, as St. Bonaventure also knew; this is why he taught at the University of Paris and ensured that, in their enthusiasm for the example of St. Francis, his brother Franciscans didn’t give up on education.

The best way to think about the relation between your calling as a student and the many other callings of Christians can be found in 1 Corinthians 12. In this letter Paul is dealing with a community in turmoil as various factions claim priority. It’s the same situation today. Pastors consider preaching and evangelizing the most important thing. Teachers consider education the most important thing. Social activists argue for the priority of making the world more just. Still others insist that internal spiritual renewal is the key to everything. St. Paul, however, reminds the Church at Corinth that it comprises a variety of gifts that serve to build up the Church’s common good. To one person is given wisdom, to others knowledge, to still others the work of healing, prophecy, and the discernment of the spirits. By all means honor those who are serving the Church in the ordained ministry, or through social action, or through spiritual direction. But remember: You are about to become a student—not a pastor, a social worker, or a spiritual director. Whatever you end up doing with your life, now is the time when you develop the intellectual skills the Church needs for the sake of building up the Body of Christ.

Your Christian calling as a student does not require you to become a theologian, at least not in the official sense of the word. Speaking as one whose job title is Professor of Theology, I certainly hope you will be attracted to the work of theology. These days—at least in the West, where the dominant intellectual trends have detached themselves from Christianity—the discipline of theology is in a world of hurt, often tempted by silly efforts to dress up the gospel in the latest academic fashions. So God knows we need all the help we can get.

But there is a wider sense of being a theologian, one that simply means thinking about what you are learning in light of Christ. This does not happen by making everything fit into Church doctrine or biblical preaching—that’s theology in the strict, official sense. Instead, to become a Christian scholar is more a matter of intention and desire, of bearing witness to Christ in the contemporary world of science, literature, and so forth.

You can’t do this on your own. You’ll need friends who major in physics and biology as well as in economics, psychology, philosophy, literature, and every other discipline. These friends can be teachers and fellow students, of course, but, for the most part, our intellectual friendships are channeled through books. C.S. Lewis has remained popular with Christian students for many good reasons, not the least of which is that he makes himself available to his readers as a trusted friend in Christ. That’s true for many other authors too. Get to know them.

Books, moreover, are often the way in which our friendships with our fellow students and teachers begin and in which these friendships become cemented. I’m not a big fan of Francis Schaeffer, but he can be a point of contact—something to agree with or argue about. The same is true for all writers who tackle big questions. Read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and John Stuart Mill, and not just because you might learn something. Read them because doing so will provide a sharpness and depth to your conversations. To a great extent, becoming an educated person means adding lots of layers to your relationships. Sure, going to the big football game or having a beer (legally) with your buddies should be fun on its own terms, but it’s also a reality ripe for analysis, discussion, and conversation. If you read Mary Douglas or Claude Levi-Strauss, you’ll have something to say about the rituals of American sports. And if you read Jane Austen or T.S. Eliot, you’ll find you see conversations with friends, particularly while sharing a meal, in new ways. And, of course, you cannot read enough Trollope. Think of books as the fine threads of a spider’s web. They link and connect.

This is especially true for your relationships with your teachers. You are not likely to become buddies with your teachers. They tend to be intimidating. But you can become intellectual friends, and this will most likely happen if you’ve read some of the same books. This is even true for science professors. You’re unlikely to engage a physics professor in an interesting conversation about subatomic particles. As a freshman you don’t know enough. But read C.P. Snow’s book The Two Cultures, and I’ll bet your physics teacher will want to know what you’re thinking. Books are touchstones, common points of reference. They are the water in which our minds swim.

You cannot and should not try to avoid being identified as an intellectual. I confess I am not altogether happy with the word intellectual as a descriptor for those who are committed to the work of the university. The word is often associated with people who betray a kind of self-indulgence, an air that they do not need to justify why they do what they do. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is the dogma used to justify such an understanding of what it means to be an intellectual. But if you’re clear about your calling as a student, you can avoid this temptation. You are called to the life of the mind to be of service to the gospel and the Church. Don’t resist this call just because others are misusing it.

Fulfilling your calling as a Christian student won’t be easy. It’s not easy for anyone who is serious about the intellectual life, Christian or not. The curricula of many colleges and universities may seem, and in fact may be, chaotic. Many schools have no particular expectations. You check a few general-education boxes—a writing course, perhaps, and some general distributional requirements—and then do as you please. Moreover, there is no guarantee that you will be encouraged to read. Some classes, even in the humanities, are based on textbooks that chop up classic texts into little snippets. You cannot become friends with an author by reading half a dozen pages. Finally, and perhaps worse because insidious, there is a strange anti-intellectualism abroad in academia. Some professors have convinced themselves that all knowledge is just political power dressed up in fancy language, or that books and ideas are simply ideological weapons in the quest for domination. Christians, of all people, should recognize that what is known and how it is known produce and reproduce power relations that are unjust, but this does not mean all questions of truth must be abandoned. As I said, it won’t be easy.

You owe it to yourself and to the Church not to let the incoherence, laziness, and self-critical excesses of the contemporary university demoralize you. Be sure not to let these failures become an excuse for you to avoid an education—a Christian education. Although some universities make it quite easy to avoid being well educated, I think you will find that every university or college has teachers who deserve the titles they’ve been given. Your task is to find them.

But how can you find the best teachers? There are no set principles, but I can suggest some guidelines. First, ask around. Are there professors who have reputations as intellectual mentors of Christian students? You’re eighteen. You don’t need substitute parents—or, at least, you don’t need parents who think you are still twelve. But you do need reliable guides. So rearrange your schedule to take the professor who teaches Dante with sensitivity to the profound theological vision of that great poet. You may end up disagreeing, both with the professor and with Dante, but you’ll learn how to think as a Christian.

Also, go to the bookstore at the beginning of the term to see which professors assign books—and I mean real books, not textbooks. Textbooks can play a legitimate role in some disciplines, but not in all, and never at all levels. You want to find the teachers who have intellectual friends, as it were, and who want to share those friends with their students. If a professor has a course outline that gives two or three weeks to reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, you can reasonably hope that he thinks of St. Augustine as someone he knows (or wants to know) and as someone he wants to share with students.

The best teachers for a Christian student aren’t always Christians. In fact, a certain kind of Christian teacher can lead you astray. It’s not easy to see the truth of Christ in modern science or contemporary critical theory, for example. The temptation is to compartmentalize, to assign your faith to the heart, perhaps, and then carry on with your academic work. Some professors have become very comfortable with this compartmentalization, so be careful. By all means take spiritual encouragement wherever you can get it; these sorts of professors can be helpful in that regard. But don’t compartmentalize, because that’s basically putting your Christian faith outside of your work as a student.

Your calling is to be a Christian student. The Christian part and the student part are inseparable. It will be hard and frustrating because you won’t see how the two go together. Nobody does, at least not in the sense of having worked it all out. But you need to remember what Christ said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” However uncertain we are about how, we know that being a Christian goes with being a student (and a teacher).

Although many professors are not Christians (at some schools, most aren’t), many professors have a piety especially relevant to the academic life. One, for example, might be committed to the intrinsic importance of knowing Wordsworth’s poetry, while another works at getting the chemistry experiment right. These professors convey a spirit of devotion. Their intellectual lives serve the subject matter rather than treating it as information to be mastered or, worse, a dead body of knowledge to be conveyed to students. English literature and modern science do not exist for their own sakes, and the university doesn’t raise money for the sake of professors’ careers. For these professors, the educational system exists for the sake of their disciplines, which they willingly serve. This spirit of devotion is not the same as Christian faith, but it can help shape your young intellectual desires and impulses in the right way by reminding you that your job as a student is to serve and not to be served. College isn’t for you; it’s for your Christian calling as an intellectual.

Eventually, you will no longer be a freshman, and American undergraduate education will force you to begin to specialize. This will present dangers as well as opportunities. You will be tempted to choose a major that will give you a sense of coherence. But be careful your major does not narrow you in the wrong way. It’s true, for example, that modern psychology provides powerful insights into the human condition, but don’t allow your increasing expertise to lure you into illusions of mastery. Continue reading broadly. It may seem that the more you know about less and less, the smarter you’ve become; after all, you now know so much more about psychology! But, in truth, the more you know about less and less should teach you humility. After a couple of years spent taking advanced courses in modern European history, you’ll know more about the French Revolution, but, if you’re self-reflective, you’ll also know how much work it takes to know anything well. And there’s so much more to know about reality than modern European history.

To combat a tendency toward the complacency that comes from mastering a discipline, it is particularly important that you gain historical insight into the practice of your discipline. For example, I have nothing but high regard for those disciplines we group under the somewhat misleading category “the sciences.” Too often, though, students have no idea how and why the scientific fields’ research agendas developed into their current form of practice. To go back and read Isaac Newton can be a bit of a shock, because he interwove his scientific analysis with theological arguments. You shouldn’t take this as a mandate for doing the same thing in the twenty-first century. It should, however, make you realize that modern science has profound metaphysical and theological dimensions that have to be cordoned off, perhaps for good reasons. Or perhaps not. The point is that knowing the history of your discipline will, inevitably, broaden the kinds of questions you ask and force you to read to be an intellectual rather than just a specialist.

It is also important that you not accept as a given the categorizations that dominate the contemporary university. For example, if you read Dante, you probably will do so in the English department. The English department has claimed Dante because it considers the Inferno “literature.” Dante obviously was a poet, and one of the most influential, but he also was a theologian, and we fail to do him justice if we ignore that quite specific theological convictions, some controversial in his own day and in ours as well, were at the center of his life and work. The same can be said for the theology department, which often imagines that a particular form of scholastic and philosophically shaped reflection defines the discipline even as the departmental theologians ignore the mystical traditions as well as the traditions of biblical commentary.

To see the rest of the article click here.
Stanley Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School.

Dr. Robert Dykstra, former professor of mine and ongoing Yoda-like guru, once told me that the sign of an emotionally healthy person is the presence in that person’s of life of friendships across the generations.

Several of you have accused me of being twisted, insane or odd. Still, you’re contradicted by the fact I DO have many friends young and old, friends nowhere in the vicinity of my age or stage of life.

Many of those friends are younger, people whom I’ve had to fortune to get to know and watch grow. This is one of the unadvertised perks of ministry- that and the chance to dress like Obi Wan every Sunday morning. Many of these friends are leaving for or returning to college in the days ahead. The question above will be a question on many of their minds if their schools do their jobs well. For them, then, I offer this article from Relevant Magazine:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, long hours.” This ad was placed in the early 1900s by explorer Ernest Shackleton as he was looking for men to help him discover the South Pole. The ad drew more than 5,000 brave candidates.

Do you think that ad would work today? Are job-hunters willing to work long hours—or be inconvenienced by difficult circumstances?

Chances are, you’re trying to find a job. Oh, sure, most of you have one, but it’s probably not your dream job. Or you might be working part-time.

Are you looking for a safe and stable posi- tion? One where you have a guaranteed salary, a company car, medical benefits and a three-week vacation? If so, you’re probably missing the best opportunities out there. The greatest opportunities today probably don’t look like your father’s dream job.
As a life coach, I have seen a dramatic shift in the workplace. No longer can one expect to graduate, get a great job, stay with that company for 35 years, get a gold watch and retire. That model is gone forever.

We have seen the collapse of major financial institutions, auto manufacturers, real estate companies and thousands of smaller companies around the world. Long-standing companies like Enron, WorldCom, Tower Records, Olan Mills, Borders and Circuit City are gone. Powerhouse retailer Macy’s cut 7,000 jobs in 2009 as people moved more and more toward online purchasing. Fifteen thousand newspaper jobs disappeared in 2009 alone. Blockbuster Video filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 and announced plans to close nearly 1,000 stores as technology increasingly allowed for watching movies without cumbersome DVDs.

Is anything predictable in the current employment environment? Is it possible to find work that lets you embrace your calling and desire to change the world in a positive way? Can you take your unique personality, skills and passions and blend those into meaningful, purposeful and profitable work?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes. It just might look different than it’s ever looked—and you might need to change your idea of what work is.

WHY YOUR PARENTS’ WORK ISN’T YOURS

Previous generations assumed they would work, make lots of money and retire in ease. Unfortunately, many of them discovered that what they thought was security was simply an illusion, and the retirement they anticipated has vanished in the distance.

Continue to Read…

According to his survey data, David Kinnaman in his book, You Lost Me: Why Young People Are Leaving the Church, reports:

1/3 of young Christians describe their church as boring.

1/4 answer that faith not relevant to their life or career interests.

24% respond that their church has not prepared them for real life.

Even worse: 1/5 young people say that God seems to be missing from their experience in church.

What may appear as small percentages (at least it’s not 80% right?) represent millions of young people who’ve written off the faith.

A major reason why they’ve done so, Kinnaman says, is that there’s a thin-ness to the Christianity offered by many churches that unavoidably leads to disinterest: ‘To many young people who grew up in Christian churches, Christianity seems boring, irrelevant, and sidelined from the real issues people face. It seems shallow.’

This shallowness, he says, has two aspects. One, young people have only a superficial understanding of the bible or their faith. They Christianity they (dis)believe is only about an inch deep. Two, churches spend much time, energy and resources communicating a lot of information about God but do not disciple believers into living in the reality of God. Knowledge may equal power but it doesn’t necessarily equal discipleship.

What churches have given young people then is a faith best described by Christian Smith as Moral Therapeutic Deism, which Kenda Dean describes as ‘God as a cosmic butler’ religion. Tellingly, it’s a faith that doesn’t believe in a living, active God who calls-demands- we give our lives to him. Consequently, it’s a faith that has no need for a church community. It’s no wonder young people write off church; we’ve given them a version of Christianity that doesn’t require it.

Kinnaman not surprisingly takes the Church to task for how its neglected its mission: valuing attendance #’s over spiritual growth, lacking meaningful rituals to develop young people’s faith as they age, failing to provide real-life application, forgetting to foster a culture of vocation in congregations, and expecting too little of young people.

Beating up the Church on these counts is too easy, though.

Kinnaman also take aim at the culture, parents and, yes, youth for the shallowness problem. He argues that from all sides, all the time, young people are catered to. Ads tell young people they’re beautiful, cool and their desires implicitly justified. Helicopter parents tell their children they’re center of the universe. Churches fall all over themselves just to have youth show up. ‘All this,’ Kinnaman says, ‘leads to a faith that lacks one essential ingredient: humility.’

If you’re convinced you already know everything and are good just as you are then ‘there are not a lot of compelling reasons to sit in the dirt at the feet of Jesus and live the humble life of a disciple.’

But maybe all is not lost.

Maybe there’s hope in the very problem.

If young people think church is shallow then that means they’re also likely cynical. What else could such a me-centered advertised world produce but cynicism. And if they’re cynical, then that means, on some level, young people must know that everything they’ve been told by their parents, churches and Madison Ave is, in some sense, a lie. And that, I think, makes them ripe for someone like Jesus to come along and co-opt their lives.

Okay, the title is just an exaggeration to get your attention.

Matthew Husband is a recent Va Tech grad, known to many of you. Matt leaves for Africa this Wednesday to volunteer for a year in AIDS prevention and treatment. Matt is a Baptist (sigh) but he has been involved with Aldersgate in such things as our mission in Guatemala. Here’s the last few lines of Matt’s post about his trip:

“This line of crazy circumstances has proven to me that this is where the Lord is leading me this next year. I continue to pray that the Lord use me the way he intends and that my own selfish desires never interfere with his plan. Although, I am excited beyond belief for the next year, I am still scared to death on how to the Lord is going to use me and mold me….”

Matt’s departure, as well the week I spent last month in Guatemala with some college students and college grads, got me thinking about God’s calling.

As a pastor, perhaps the thing I love most about my relationships with students is how I get to hear them constantly wrestling with and asking about God’s call in their lives. It’s natural they would, I suppose, given their stage of life. By and large, old people (and by old I mean anyone my age and up) have already made their choices- or compromises- and settled into their lives. That’s why, for people my age, the question is more often how they can fit God into their busy lives, but young people, with their lives ahead of them, more often ask how can God use them and their life.

The word we use in church, ‘call,’ comes from the Latin word, vocare, meaning ‘to call.’  It refers to God’s call or Jesus’ ‘come and follow me.’ What’s exciting for a pastor is how young Christians, especially if you get enough Jesus in them, are always responding to that ‘follow me’ with questions like ‘How?’ ‘Where?’ ‘To do what?’

If that’s the upside of ‘call’ and ‘vocation’ then preaching on Isaiah this weekend got me to thinking about what we miss, young and old, about God’s call.

Typically, the way we use the word, ‘vocation’ refers to someone’s career, to their paid work. Some Christians use the word even more narrowly, referring specifically to a subjective ‘feeling’ that calls them into religious work. It’s no wonder then that many assume God only calls people like me, priests and pastors.

Here’s the problem:

Our careers, our work, what we do to pay the bills- none of it is anything Jesus ever says anything about.

The vocation = career equation we’ve set up isn’t a biblical equation.

What’s more, thinking vocation = career is bad news to anyone who is retired, out of work or just hates their job and does it only because they have to.

The earnestness with which Matt wants to be used by God makes me wish that we as the Church could recover an authentically Christian concept of vocation.

Because the biblical equation looks more like this:

Vocation = Each of Us Doing…Anything

God calls each and everyone one of us. Anything we do, in whatever role we have, if it’s done in faith and done to glorify God, then it’s a holy calling. A vocation.

While it’s wonderful (and energizing for me) for young people to struggle with their place in the world and how God can use them, it’s equally true that whether we’re working or volunteering or (grand) parenting you can practice a vocation.

As Kenda Dean says, ‘what matters for Christians isn’t the work we do but the lives we live.’

Or, as Martin Luther said a bit more vividly: God is just as pleased when a father changes his daughter’s diapers as when a priest celebrates the Mass.

So I wish Matt well and I pray  for what I already know he’ll be praying for: that he would let God use him and that we would glorify God both in the amazing and in the mundane experiences he encounters.

PS: You can read more of his post here.